Noted Ecumenical Agency Fighting Poverty
In Appalachia Forced to Close its Doors
New York, NY—The Commission on Religion in Appalachia (CORA) is closing its doors after 40 years of promoting social, political, and economic justice in the mountain region of 12 states.
CORA is a victim of declining support from its ecumenical sponsors, including The United Methodist Church. It effectively ceased operation on November 1 and will close all operations by the end of 2006. The decision was reached by its board of commissioners, meeting in Ripley, West Virginia in mid-October.
“This is very sad news,” said the Rev. Carol Thompson, the staff member for Town and Country ministry at the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.
“The commission has been a beacon of hope for many poor families and communities in Appalachia and its absence will be acutely felt.”
CORA was founded in 1965 to counteract poverty in one of the poorest regions of the United States. It funneled seed money mostly from churches into projects that created jobs, promoted just public policy, and undercut racism. It received stimulus from a 1956 Ford Foundation study on poverty in Appalachia and the Appalachian Regional Development Act passed by the US Congress in 1965, according to a CORA press release.
United Methodists were involved from the outside, said Sharon Leatherman, executive coordinator of the United Methodist Appalachian Ministries Network, who has worked closely with CORA.
Ms. Leatherman said that she hopes the anti-racism and multicultural work of CORA can be continued under other sponsorship.
Bishop Ralph Dukins of the Western Maryland Synod, chair of the CORA board of commissioners, said that the organization’s success was also its downfall. A CORA press released quoted the bishop as explaining: “Being successful as a prophetic voice, working with the disadvantaged, creating anti-racism team…and providing grants to a wide array of ministries are just a few of the CORA successes. These same successes were seen by some of the originally supportive denominations as a way to do their own ministry in the region. Therefore, denominations began in the early 1990s to create their own ministries and began decreasing their support of CORA.”
United Methodist support of CORA was strong across the 1990s. It began to decrease about five years ago, partly as a result of budget reductions at the General Board of Global Ministries, which had assisted the ministry through its Office of Town and Country Ministry. Several annual conferences were also engaged in CORA’s work.
Ms. Leatherman said that “changes in other major denominations partner’s structures and financial positions have resulted in lack of support for grant making and administration.”
At its founding, CORA had the backing of 17 denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church, 11 state councils of churches, the National Council of Churches, and several Appalachian regional organizations. It was involved in several high profile labor disputes in the 1970s and 1980s, cases involving mines, canneries, and hospitals.
CORA’s headquarters have been in Charleston, WVA in recent years. It archives will go to the University of Kentucky.
Date posted: Nov 03, 2006